Sunday, November 26, 2017

EDITORIAL: Volunteers are the wind beneath Aviation Wing

Against all odds, the Aviation Wing of the Marietta Museum of History has taken flight.

Among the newest attractions in Cobb County, the tribute to military aircraft is available for all to enjoy at the corner of Atlanta Road and South Cobb Drive.

What flight crew got this project off the ground? Credit goes to a group of veterans and Lockheed retirees who have expended an endless amount of time in rebuilding, maintaining and displaying the dozen airplanes on view at the museum.

The air park’s origins date to 2004, when banker Joe Daniell happened across a comment in the MDJ by former state Sen. Chuck Clay. Clay believed the community needed a Lockheed museum, and Daniell agreed.

Aircraft manufacturing has played a transformational role for Cobb County, starting with the Bell Bomber plant during World War II and later with Lockheed Martin and Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Daniell called a meeting of like-minded enthusiasts, including retired Lockheed chiefs Bob Ormsby and Micky Blackwell and Marietta Museum of History founder Dan Cox.

Cox gave the group a room with a desk and computer at his history museum and the aviation museum was launched.

With the help of former Lockheed chief Lee Rhyant, they secured a 15.5-acre South Cobb Drive tract. The county subleased the tract from the Air Force on a 50-year lease with an option to renew for $1 a year.

The aviation museum ran into a hitch when the county didn’t see through on a needed $500,000 pledge. Undaunted, the museum’s board suggested transferring assets over to the Marietta Museum of History to keep the project from going down in flames. That proposal was also met with resistance, this time from the city.

But Brent Brown, who chaired the history museum’s board at the time, worked with Blackwell and others to successfully oversee the transfer in 2009. The Marietta Museum of History has been in charge of the “aviation wing” ever since, although it’s the volunteers composed of Lockheed retirees and veterans who deserve the credit for caring for the airplanes.

One of them is Bill Paden of Marietta, who retired in 1998 as C-141 program engineering manager after working more than 40 years at the Marietta plant. As it happens, the volunteers’ latest project has been restoring newly-acquired wing parts to a C-141B Starlifter.

Lockheed’s first Starlifter took flight in 1963, prompting President John F. Kennedy to call it a “great moment for our nation.” Paden, who worked on the C-141’s cockpit design, remembers the day well.

According to the Lockheed website, the Starlifter served as the mainstay of the U.S. military airlift from 1965 to 2006. The craft participated in every operation from Vietnam to Iraqi Freedom. It received the nickname the “Hanoi Taxi” in 1973 after repatriating nearly 600 American Prisoners of War held in North Vietnam.

Paden said he would love to raise enough money to build a pavilion at the air park where groups could hold events. Proper restrooms are also needed.

“We have no funding from anybody. Cobb County (leases) the property. The city of Marietta owns the assets. Neither have given us one dime,” he said.

Jan Galt, executive director of the Marietta Museum of History, has done the best she can with the limited funding available to her. Galt said a capital campaign is in the works. Setbacks aside, Blackwell said he’s proud of the volunteers for the work they have done.

“My grandkids went there and they loved it. I’ve carried Boy Scout troops and others there, and the parents, and all come away with having the very best time. It’s truly an asset to our county. And the people that work on it, it’s a labor of love, and I don’t have anything but the highest respect for those who do,” Blackwell said.

To see the technology of the airplanes from a hands-on perspective was the late Ormsby’s dream because it stimulates young people to want to be part of the aerospace industry.

“I think by kids seeing something that’s real, that people in their own hometown produced and became a part of, hopefully that will engender interest in science and technology, and they’ll want to be part of continuing making America great,” Blackwell said.

While some elected officials and county leaders have been disappointing in their lack of effort to support the preservation of our history, the volunteers have stepped in to save it and make it available to inspire future generations. They deserve our thanks, and we publicly recognize them by publishing this list provided by the volunteer group: Allan Hope, Bill Hepler, Bill Paden, Bill Estes, Bob Bennett, Bob Elliott, Boone Barnes, Cliff Lord, Chris Kennedy, Dan Harless, Don Dykes, Doug Lester, Floyd Brightman, Harold Shamblin, John Kennedy, Max Stanford, Mike Gotay, Phillip Hunt, Randy Shepherd, Scott Major, Rick Aschenbeck, Vance Engle, Doug Burnett, Ed Mulliniks, Al Caudell, Dick Prange and Nate Guindon.

To these gentlemen: Hats off and wings up.

Original article can be found here ➤

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